People fleeing London for Paris
The mad rush after Boris Johnson’s press conference announcement sparked dangerous overcrowding at St Pancras, Euston and King’s Cross where packed carriages resembled the “last train out of Saigon”. Hours before the stampede Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty begged people to stay at home, warning: “If you have packed a bag, unpack it.”
Stations were overrun with people fleeing to cities in the North while traffic on main roads out of the capital and other parts of the south east was gridlocked.
People used every available mode of transport to leave – even hailing cabs to drive them hundreds of miles.
Edmund King, the president of the AA, said that within 90 minutes of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decree on Saturday night there were reports of people jumping in taxis and hiring vehicles to escape the new rules, which came into force eight hours later.
He said: “There are elements of an exodus of some people from Tier 4. I have heard of people actually hiring cars to get out of London to get to Liverpool because a lot of the trains are either restricted or booked.
Police patrol to make sure no one escapes who shouldn’t
“We have even heard of taxi drivers taking people longer distances – people calling minicab offices and saying, ‘I need to get to Nottingham’.
“It is almost like a wall is coming down around London and the south east and some people are scrambling to get away to save their Christmas.”
Mr Hancock said: “I think those scenes were totally irresponsible. This was totally irresponsible behaviour but I think it’s relatively small numbers.
“The vast majority of people in the pandemic have followed the rules and played their part.
It has all ended in tiers
“It is more important than ever that people are responsible, not only stick to the rules but within the rules restrict social contact as much as is possible because this is deadly serious.”
Asked if police would prevent people from leaving Tier 4 regions he said: “I’ve spoken to the Home Secretary and the British Transport Police’s responsibility is to police the transport system.”
Shocking scenes showed crowds rushing towards barriers to board trains leaving the capital.
On one crammed platform at St Pancras thousands jostled to board the last train to Leeds before restrictions began.
Commuter Harriet Clugston compared the chaos to Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War when people were desperate to flee the Viet Cong.
She tweeted: “Last train out of Saigon. Queue at St Pancras as we wait to board the Leeds-bound train. As expected, train is crammed.
“Every person on this train including myself has made what is probably a very silly and irresponsible decision to travel, albeit within the law. But that’s what people were always going to do to be together at Christmas.”
There were fears packed carriages – where social distancing was impossible – could help transport the new mutant strain of Covid sweeping the south of England to unaffected parts.
Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy said: “Additional transport police are in place to ensure only essential journeys take place.”
People waiting patiently to flee London
Yesterday – on the first day of the new Tier 4 restrictions under which nonessential travel is banned – Eurostar tickets sold out in less than hour amid fears France – and other countries – would ban UK travellers in a bid to prevent the mutant strain spreading.
The exodus was triggered after millions of people living in Tier 3 parts of London, the South-east and east of England were placed into a new, tougher Tier 4.
Around 18 million Britons are now in the highest tier.
The changes mean a ban on households mixing over Christmas, travel into or out of Tier 4 areas is only permitted for very limited reasons and overnight stays away from home are largely prohibited.
Matt Hancock slams those who disagree with him
Elsewhere families are only allowed to form “Christmas bubbles” on December 25.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “If you are in Tier 4, the law means you must stay at home and you cannot stay overnight away from home.
“Across the rest of the country, you must stay local. Follow the guidance and please do not come to a station unless you are permitted to travel.”
Boris Johnson added: “We are sacrificing our chance to see loved ones this Christmas, so we have a better chance of protecting their lives so we can see them at future Christmases.”
WHAT DOES A TIER 4 LOCKDOWN MEAN?
Non-essential shops, hairdressers, leisure and entertainment venues close and people stay at home.
Some exemptions apply, including people who need to travel for education or childcare. Exercise is unlimited.
Where people cannot work from home, they can still travel to work.
Households must not mix, but one person is allowed to meet with one other person outside in a public space.
Support bubbles and those meeting for childcare are exempt.
Those deemed extremely vulnerable should not go to work and should limit time outside of their homes.
Those in Tier 4 must not stay overnight away from home and are banned from travelling abroad.
Not everyone believes Tier 4 is necessary
WHERE ARE TIER 4 AREAS?
The parts of London, the south east and the east of England which were previously in Tier 3 have moved into Tier 4, affecting nearly 18 million people.
In the South-east this covers Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverley), Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings.
In the east of England it applies to Bedford, Central Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire and Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring).
It also includes all of London.
HOW LONG WILL THIS LAST?
The new measures came into force at midnight on Saturday and are due to last two weeks.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the restrictions as “broadly equivalent” to the restrictions put in place in November.
WHO CAN I MEET UP WITH?
You cannot meet other people indoors unless you live with them or they are part of your existing support bubble. Outdoors, you can only meet one person.
IS CHRISTMAS CANCELLED?
Limits on meeting people will still apply over the festive period in Tier 4, meaning you will not be able to join or form Christmas bubbles.